Chief executive’s policy address 2017

CY Leung has delivered a road map for next leader to follow

Chief executive may not have delivered on all the promises he made five years ago, but he has built a foundation that will serve his successor well

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 5:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 5:43am

Whoever thinks a sunset government has little to offer should take a closer look at the policy address that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying delivered yesterday. Despite having fewer than six months left in his term, Leung was keen to show that he had been working hard for the good of Hong Kong. From consolidating economic and housing development strategies to enhancing welfare and health care for the needy, the outgoing leader has laid a good foundation for the next administration to further tackle the pressing issues facing the city.

Some hits, many misses during CY Leung’s tenure

Leung’s final policy speech was his longest, and for good reason. On the one hand, he catalogued the progress in various policy areas since taking up the job in July 2012. Yet he went further still, rolling out new initiatives in environmental protection and health care that will last well beyond his term in office. There were even some pleasant surprises, such as a HK$20 billion upgrade in sports facilities and another HK$1 billion injection into elite sports training. Had he not ruled himself out of seeking a second term, the 87-page address could easily have been misunderstood as paving the way for re-election rather than a swansong.

Leung yesterday declared that he had, by and large, delivered on his promises when campaigning for the top job five years ago. But it is also true that some issues have not been fully resolved. For instance, the pledge to abolish the controversial offsetting mechanism on severance or long-service payments with Mandatory Provident Fund contributions has yet to be accepted by employers. There is also no guarantee for the implementation of standard working hours. But the policy address did not shy away from tackling those outstanding issues. Those who expected more will no doubt try to hold him accountable to his promises in the coming months.

Opportunities and challenges

One of Leung’s pet projects was economic integration with the mainland. In his policy blueprint yesterday, he continued that push by emphasising the opportunities offered by the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a national economic development strategy. The proposals to set up more overseas trade offices and attract local and overseas start-ups – particularly in the hi-tech sector – through tax concessions as well as other financial incentives are worth exploring.

The decision against the introduction of a universal retirement protection scheme has inevitably disappointed some. But the government has made up for that by enhancing the existing old-age living allowance and strengthening health care for the elderly. With nearly one in three in our population expected to be aged 65 or above by 2041, the measures are steps in the right direction to prepare for our fast-greying society.

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On the housing conundrum, Leung has rightly challenged the community to think outside of the box. With only 7 per cent of the land in Hong Kong zoned for housing, an acute shortage of supply remains the main reason why property prices have spiralled beyond what ordinary people can afford. The question of whether part of our beloved country parks can be rezoned for housing is controversial. About 40 per cent of our territory is now designated as country parks. Unless there are other ways to boost land supply, it seems we cannot duck the issue indefinitely. A rational and informed debate on the matter would be a good starting point.

Unlike the strong rhetoric he used against pro-independence forces in his 2015 address, the outgoing leader was noticeably less combative this time while reiterating his stance against separatism. Whatever the tone, though, the message was the same: Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, a fact that is not only a legal and political reality but also recognised by the international community.

The political divide that deepened under Leung’s leadership looks unlikely to be bridged in the remaining months of his term. It is his successor who will have to face this daunting task.

Passing the baton

The chief executive said he had tried to lay down the basis for further development in various policy areas, adding that he did not want the next government to inherit some long-standing problems. This is a sensible strategy.

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It remains unclear whether Leung’s policies will be retained by the city’s next leader. But it would make sense for whoever takes office on July 1 to build on the foundations and continue with the directions and policies that have been well received. For instance, the city should strive to capitalise on the opportunities arising from the “One Belt, One Road” strategy. This is not just for the sake of contributing to national development, but also in the city’s own interest to explore new areas of economic growth.

Equally important is the need of continuity in tackling the housing crisis and an ageing population. Given there is still a considerable shortfall in the supply of public housing and that the demand for quality health care and welfare protection for senior citizens will continue to rise, it is incumbent upon the next chief executive to build on the foundations laid down by Leung.